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Life Issues

Have you ever found yourself struggling with questions to do with your faith in God? Things that you have long since believed, accepted without question and maybe even taught to others?

The years come and go and these truths continue to be foundational to your experience and expression of your faith in God.

Then comes a set of circumstances that seem to mock and challenge everything you have believed about God; what He is like, how He acts. Whether suddenly or slowly, you find questions arising in your heart because, in those circumstances, God is acting (or not acting) in ways that you always believed and affirmed He would.

I’m thinking at this moment of John the Baptist.

When we first meet John he is a man filled with passionate conviction and fire. He preached with incredible authority, suffered opposition from the religious establishment of the day and yet he didn’t flinch at all.

But in the latter stages of his life the certainty which marked the beginning of his ministry was in danger of being overcome by doubt and questions.

Listen to John as he breaks upon the stage of Redemption’s Drama.


The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ John 1:29-30 (NIV)

 

Did you hear the strength of conviction in his voice? Did you hear the absolute authority in the four words “This is the One….”.  Not a question, “Could this be the one?” Not a speculation, “Maybe this is the one”. No! He was emphatic. "This is the One

Now listen to John at the end of his life.

 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.  When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Matthew 11:1-3 (NIV)

Did you notice anything missing? Could this be the same man that we originally encountered down by the Jordan River? The one who was so passionate, a man of unshakeable conviction?

This is the same man alright. But what has happened that he who said with great authority, “This is the One” should now ask with genuine uncertainty, “Are you the One”?

I can tell you what has happened. John has been transported from the freedom of the mountains of Judea to the restrictions of ‘death row’ in Herod’s rat-infested prison.

That’s what has happened!

For the first time in what was probably a fairly short ministry, John is looking at life through prison bars. And life is very different when viewed through circumstances that restrict our activities, curtail our ministry and maybe threaten our very lives.

You see, prison was never on John’s agenda for himself, let alone his execution! Then again, maybe it was? Surely he must have known that exposing the immorality of the royal family (Matthew 14/3-5) would result in more than a slap on the wrist?

So John’s ministry began with great authority & passion but ended with uncertainty and doubt. Some might say (and I’m not one of them) that John’s ministry began with a bang and ended with a whimper.

I guess Jesus must have been disappointed with John’s withdrawal from certainty into doubt? I mean if He can’t depend on John, his own cousin, who can He depend on? I feel sure Jesus must have let John know how He felt.

Well, let’s check the narrative.

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist”; ……. Matthew 11:7-11 (NIV)

This ringing endorsement from Jesus about John leaves us somewhere between confused and amazed. You see, doubt is not necessarily or always a bad thing. When I talk about “doubt” I am not talking about wilful refusal to believe in the face of incontrovertible evidence.

Although we often refer to Thomas as “doubting Thomas”, there was something more determined and confrontational in his response to the claim of the disciples that they had seen the Lord.


 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25 (NIV)

If a period of questioning or a season of doubt overtakes us and, in the name of integrity, we wrestle our way through to a deeper understanding of truth, then that season of doubt has served us well even though it may have been very unsettling experience.

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